Patent Lawsuit Against American Idol’s SMS Voting

The New York Daily News reported that a Texas retiree, Edward Lyda, has sued hit TV show, American Idol, in New York State Supreme Court. Lyda apparently claims that American Idol “ripped off” his idea about using live audience voting using SMS in a television show, which is allegedly patented.I haven’t been able to read the substance of the lawsuit but I did take a took at the Lyda’s SMS voting patent – I was surprised and not surprised at the same time. The background history contained in the patent describes Lyda’s revelation that he could build a voting system that records votes from remote viewers of a live television show that (a) doesn’t require a computer system connected to the world wide web, and (b) allows wireless voting that extends beyond a few feet of infrared wireless devices that extend for only a few feet, like your television’s remote control device. The “invention” described in the patent is one where a “remote response device” can communicate with a presenter on live television using different responses, such as other devices have used a wired telephone to accomplish the same task.Remote Voting Device

The device that you see on the right hand side “depicts a response device according to an embodiment of the present invention having a limited keypad” – just like a mobile telephone. The patent continues to describe in general details regarding an “electronic response device other than a computer” but which also has a CPU – arguably the very definition of a “computer” device. This device and a general system is described and outlines what anyone would be required generally in order to set up a remote response wireless voting system. Considering that wireless technologies (such as the widespread use of paging) already existed at the time, it seems that this “idea” isn’t altogether innovative. I’m not quite sure why Lyda and his attorney limited themselves to suing American Idol – they should have sued everyone who uses a mobile phone or any device that doesn’t use the “world wide web” for purposes of having real time voting.

United States patent law is a difficult field of law to grasp and understanding how some patents are approved and others are not approved is no less challenging. Under federal law (with regard to a “utility patent”), any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent.”  From my understanding, to qualify for a patent, an invention must be “useful,” “novel,” and “nonobvious.” In addition to having a useful purpose, the requirement of being “novel” means that the invention was not:

  • known or used by others in the US prior to the patent application;
  • patented or described in any printed publication in the U.S. prior to the applicant’s invention;
  • prior patented or described in a printed publication in any country more than one year prior to the US patent application;
  • used in public or available for sale in the U.S. more than one year prior to the US patent application;
  • abandoed by the applicant;.
  • patented by the applicant in a foreign country or had an application filed within a year of the U.S. patent application filing;
  • prior described in a U.S. patent granted to someone else;
  • invented by the applicant;
  • previously invented by another person prior to the applicant and the inventor did not abandon, conceal or suppress the invention.

The patent must also not be “obvious.” I’m not quite sure what this should mean, considering how many patents seem extremely obvious to me although they might not be obvious to my pets and five year old nephew. Since there is precipitation that falls from the sky periodically, a system of wiping the windshield of a car using a mechanical wiping device would seem an obvious need. Since the rain falls with different intensity, the frequency of the wiping mechanism would have to increase or slow down as well. There are several famous patents that have been filed with regard to both windshield wipers and the frequency those wipers wipe your windows. Most famous in the Internet industry was Amazon.com’s “One Click Patent” – which seems to me the reason you’d want to use a database that stores customer information. It is possible that I may have been able to file for at least several dozen patents but the ideas themselves seemed far too obvious to me, yet they exist as patents at the USPTO.

There are several ongoing lawsuits regarding could computing inventions amongst other uses of technology that promise to make much of what we use every day more expensive due to licensing fees. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. If so,  it makes me wonder whether it is necessity that should be granted a monopoly for “inventions” for a period of 20 years.

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq. – has written posts on The Law Professor.

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq.

Internet / Mobile entrepreneur since 1989, Intellectual Property attorney since the mid 1990s, former in-house counsel at iVillage.com, Senior Vice President of Business Strategy at Zedge, Co-Founder of the IDT Internet Mobile Group, E-Discovery expert and legal consultant with Kroll Ontrack, and owner and operator of TheLaw.com